Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Israel discussed in CNN National Security Debate

CNN’s video game like introduction to Tuesday night’s Republican national security debate was more interesting than the actual event. It included footage of the Bush Administration’s rhetoric during the Iraq war and a clip of a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speech, but the debate maintained a heavy focus on immigration especially with regard to Mexico.

The event was co-sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, two U.S. think tanks that have taken hawkish positions on a variety of U.S. foreign policy issues. The “questions from the audience” were in fact provided by think tank members such as Bush Administration neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz, and David Addington, one of the authors of the infamous “torture memos”.

There were a number of serious fact check moments, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann’s declaration that President Obama has “essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU” and the “CIA has no ability to have any form of interrogation for terrorists.” Read about some of them here. Also following are some points worth noting about the candidates’ positions on U.S.-Pakistan and Mideast policy.

Pakistan: Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the U.S. shouldn’t be writing “blank checks” to Pakistan because it has been uncooperative with regard to U.S. military initiatives on its territory. While calling Pakistan “a nation that lies” and “does everything possible that you can imagine wrong”, Bachmann said U.S. aid to the country “is helping the United States.”

Iran: All candidates accepted a question from the Heritage Foundation that cited Ehud Barak’s claim that Iran is “less than a year away” from creating a nuclear weapon and apart from congressman Ron Paul, no one took issue with the U.S. supporting “regime change” or using military force against the country. Leading candidate Newt Gingrich said war should be a “last recourse” to bring about regime change, an outcome which he strongly endorsed. He said the U.S. “could break the Iranian regime” in a year by “cutting off the gasoline supply to Iran and then, frankly, sabotaging the only refinery they have.”

Perry called for sanctioning Iran’s central bank to “shut down that economy” but his most important statement about Iran came later on when he asserted twice that the reason the U.S. should intervene in Syria is not because of the massive human rights violations that are taking place, but because taking out Bashar al-Assad’s government would weaken Iran and strengthen Israel:

I think you need to leave [a no-fly zone] on the table to make sure, because this is not just about Syria. This is about Iran and those two as a partnership, and exporting terrorism around the world. And if we’re going to be serious about saving Israel, we better get serious about Syria and Iran, and we better get serious right now.

There is no evidence to back up Bachmann’s claim that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran will attack Israel with a nuclear weapon. Even the Atlantic’s anti-Iran agitator Geoffrey Goldberg tweeted that “Ahmedinejad has not stated that he would use a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Just sayin.'”

Former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman criticized Obama’s Iran sanctioning policy, stating that “the Chinese aren’t going to play ball. And the Russians aren’t going to play ball, and I believe the mullahs have already decided they want to go nuclear.”

Businessman Herman Cain said he would support an Israeli attack on Iran as long as they had “a credible plan for success.” He also seemed fixed on the fact that Iran is a “mountainous region” and stressed that its terrain should be calculated into any attack plan.

Israel: Mitt Romney declared that his foreign trip as president would be to Israel “to show we care about them.” Paul reminded everyone that former Mossad leader Meir Dagan said attacking Iran would be “the stupidest thing to do in the world” and argued Israel is “not about to do this.” Paul added that

Israel has 200, 300 nuclear missiles, and they can take cares of themselves. We don’t even have a treaty with Israel. Why do we have this automatic commitment that we’re going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel? So I think they’re quite capable of taking care of themselves.

Huntsman tried to outdo Romney’s declaration of allegiance to the Israelis by saying that  “our interest in the Middle East is Israel.”

Obama’s Foreign Policy: Obama’s foreign policy record was consistently bashed but Huntsman essentially argued that he would continue his policy in Pakistan by using special operation forces along with drone bombing campaigns:

Pakistan is a concern. That’s the country that ought to keep everybody up at night…It’s a haven for bad behavior, it’s a haven for training the people who seek to do us harm. And an expanded drone program is something that would serve our national interests.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.